Promotion – What Makes A Work Go Viral?


I suppose every author and musician, maybe every dancer or videographer, movie producer, or TV exec wants to know the same thing — what makes a work go viral?

In other words, why did Harry Potter become such a success? Why Eragon? The Passion of the Christ? Twilight? Hunger Games? Left Behind? Shadowmancer? The Da Vinci Code? The Shack? Is there something these books have in common that brought them so much attention?

The first thing I notice is that all except perhaps Hunger Games made the national news for one reason or the other. In most cases the reason was controversy. Harry Potter received criticism from Christians as did The Da Vinci Code. Christians debated the merits of The Shack. Shadowmancer supposedly angered a faction of Christians and came to the US under a cloud of criticism. And Jews objected to The Passion.

Some of the works received national attention because of a human interest aspect. Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon when he was fifteen, self-published, and traveled the country with his parents hand selling the book until it was picked up by a traditional publisher, and made national news.

The Left Behind books found their way in front of network viewers because of their success in the Christian market. (In the same way, Amish stories are now coming out of the ABA — because they continue to sell and sell and sell.) Twilight was a phenom because, of all things, the teenage lovers didn’t have sex.

But the question remains. How did these books garner enough sales to catch the public’s attention?

It seems something first captivated an initial group who started talking. Left Behind had a well-known non-fiction writer as one of the co-authors, and I expect that pulled in a number of initial readers. But I also believe it tapped into a fascination about future events.

The Shack took a different path. The book creators solicited promotion from its readers within its covers. At the end, there were specific action points that were designed to get satisfied readers talking about the book and buying more copies to give away.

Twilight caught the attention of a group of romance lovers with a strict moral code. Perhaps Mormons banded together to support the book initially (pure conjecture on my part).

Shadowmancer, besides claiming religious controversy, also took on the mantle of the “Christian” Harry Potter, possibly earning itself a niche following.

In contrast, The Da Vinci Code may have picked up fans from the new atheist crowd or from any anti-Catholic, and of course once the Pope spoke out against it, the controversy was on.

It appears that the first thing, though, was something within the work itself. The Passion of the Christ had so many unique aspects — a famous actor seeing the project through in the face of rejection from traditional sources (human interest), opposition from a religious group (controversy) which garnered national attention, a non-traditional approach to the subject matter, a highly religious film using Biblical material as its primary source, a select group of unknown actors. In other words, there was lots to talk about.

I already mentioned the content of the Left Behind books. Harry Potter had a unique story world. Hunger Games had a timely, intriguing dystopian concept that tapped into a current cultural phenomenon — reality games.

In other words, either the author or the subject seemed to set the work apart from others, which caused first readers/viewers to pay attention.

In each case, a big budget marketing plan didn’t seem to be responsible for the work’s success. People were. But the people who talked about what they read or viewed first had to have something to talk about, something unique enough that they wanted to pass it along to others.

And viral happened.

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